Acorns of bottomland red oaks (Quercus spp.) are an important food of North American wood ducks (Aix sponsa). Barras et al. (1996) demonstrated that female wood ducks selected willow oak ( Q. phetlos) acorns over other species. We measured true metabolizable energy (TME) derived by captive, wild-strain, adult female wood ducks from acorns of willow oak, water oak (Q. nigra), cherrybark oak (Q. pagoda), and pin oak (Q. patustris) to determine whether female wood ducks' preference for willow oak acorns was related to TME. Estimates of TME within acorn species were relatively precise, yet we did not detect variation in TME among acorn species (P= 0.31 ); hence, we estimated TME across species (2.76 + 0.033 [SE] kcal/g dry mass; n = 34). We concluded that TME apparently did not explain female wood ducks' preference for willow oak acorns and hypothesized that morphological characteristics of willow oak acorns may be proximate cues related to selection by wood ducks. We also summarized known TME estimates for acorns fed to wood ducks and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), and natural and agricultural foods fed to mallards, northern pintails (A. acura), blue-winged teal (A. discors), and Canada geese (Branta canadensis). We found that acorns and moist-soil plant seeds and tubers provided, on average, about 76% of the TME in agricultural seeds. Thus, bottomland-hardwood and moist-soil habitats have potential to provide significant amounts of dietary energy, as well as greater diversity of foods and nutrients than croplands. Researchers should continue to determine TME of common foods (plant and animal) of waterfowl, and use TME in estimating waterfowl habitat carrying capacity (e.g., Reinecke et al. 1989). Additionally, large-scale, reliable estimates of plant and animal food availability in bottomland-hardwood and moist-soil habitats are needed to evaluate carrying capacity of landscapes important to waterfowl, such as the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV).
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True metabolizable energy for wood ducks from acorns compared to other waterfowl foods